An outbreak of mumps at the College of Charleston has been reported by the state health department after three people tested positive for the virus, according to a college representative.
The first case was confirmed on Sept. 17. The college has isolated the individuals who tested positive for the virus and begun verifying immunization records of all students.
Generally, an outbreak is declared when a disease occurs in greater numbers than expected within a defined area and time period, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. A mumps outbreak is defined as three or more cases linked by time and place.
The college is currently working to notify all staff and students about the outbreak. Last fall, they reported that nearly 11,000 students were enrolled with the institution. They are also working with DHEC and the Medical University of South Carolina to stop the spread of the virus.
The MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine is one of three vaccines the college requires students to have and to show documentation of before enrollment. Students who are 18 or older may sign a waiver to opt out of the requirement.
The waiver form does not require students to specify medical conditions or religious beliefs that prevent them from being vaccinated. Students who have signed the waiver will be identified and contacted because they are considered to be at a higher risk of contracting the disease.
These students can be excluded from campus activities and events during communicable disease emergencies.
This week, the college will host a vaccination clinic on campus to provide higher-risk people with access to the MMR vaccine.
Initially, the college denied a request for the number of students who had submitted vaccine waivers by arguing that the information was protected by federal privacy laws. A spokesman with the College of Charleston now confirms that out of over 12,000 student medical records that they have on file, nearly 200 students have submitted waivers.
Two doses of the MMR vaccine are highly recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prevent mumps, measles and rubella. The first dose is recommended between the ages of 12 and 15 months. The second is recommended between the ages of 4 and 6 years.
Dr. Moshe Rhodes is a microbial genetics professor with the College of Charleston who recently wrote a satirical children's book titled "Jenny's First Sleepover" to educate people on the importance of vaccinations. The outbreak on campus, he said, demonstrates how important it is for everyone to be vaccinated and to maintain good "herd," or population, immunity.
“It also highlights the importance of restricting fraudulent vaccine exemption claims," he said.
While there are legitimate medical reasons why some students aren't vaccinated, Rhodes said he thinks it is too easy to get a religious exemption in South Carolina. He argued that exemptions should be carefully considered and not easily obtained.
He also believes South Carolina should ban religious exemptions completely and crackdown on fraudulent medical exemptions.
“Because religious exemptions just endanger people with legitimate medical exemptions," he said.
The Post and Courier has previously reported the number of religious vaccine exemptions filed by public school students has more than tripled in South Carolina in less than a decade.
The mumps is a contagious disease with early symptoms that include headaches, muscle aches, fever and tiredness. The most notable symptoms of the disease are the swollen jaws and puffy cheeks. This is caused by the swelling of the salivary glands, according to the CDC.
Complications among adults who test positive can include deafness and inflammation of the brain and tissue surrounding the spinal cord. The CDC has reported over 2,000 cases of the virus in the United States so far this year.
Before a vaccination program was developed in 1967, the U.S. saw nearly 200,000 cases of the mumps each year. By 1989, cases had decreased by more than 99 percent, according to the CDC.
But since 2006, the CDC has reported increases in the number of cases following the rise of the anti-vaccination movement.
While the federal agency highlights that it is still possible to contract the mumps even if a person has been vaccinated, high vaccine coverage can decrease the duration, size and spread of a mumps outbreak.